Boris Johnson signs Brexit trade deal with EU
Champions of free trade want the UK to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement between 11 countries around the Pacific Rim including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam. The breakneck speed at which the Prime Minister nailed down a deal with the EU has raised hopes that the UK can rapidly secure deals and exploit opportunities to boost trade and grow the economy. Victoria Hewson, a trade expert at the highly influential Institute of Economic Affairs, pushed for the UK to join the Pacific nations’ trading group – technically known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – which in 2018 accounted for 13 percent of global GDP.
She said: “I think we definitely should be pursuing that. That’s absolutely vital.
“That should be a real priority because that would really open up huge markets and show a real level of ambition.
“Signing up to a trans-Pacific partnership from our little perch on the edge of the Atlantic would be a fantastic symbol as well as a really substantive pro-free trade move.”
Former Brexit minister David Jones also backed membership, saying: “It’s the big one.”
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He said: “The EU is taking an increasingly declining slice of world trade whereas these are the economies that are on the move and are taking more… I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
Mr Jones said he would not be surprised if US President-elect Joe Biden wanted the United States to join the partnership.
“The original partnership was pushed forward by the Obama administration and would have been the world’s largest free trade deal but President Donald Trump pulled the US out in 2017.
Hopes that the UK could join the deal were lifted in 2018 when then-Japanese PM Shinzō Abe said Britain would be welcomed “with open arms”.
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“In June, the UK formally confirmed it intends to pursue membership with the hope it will “turbocharge” trade.
The optimism about new trading opportunities for Britain is shared by leading figures who campaigned for Brexit.
Writing for the Sunday Express, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “We know that global free trade has done more to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life than anything else. Now our challenge is to seize the day and make that happen for everyone in the UK.”
Brexit-supporting QC Martin Howe described how he hopes home-grown industries will thrive outside the EU, saying: “We now have the freedom to make changes to the laws which we have inherited from the EU.
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“I am optimistic that we can do much better than Europe in fashioning laws which will encourage hi-tech industries such life sciences, artificial intelligence and fintech to flourish here.”
Cardiff University’s Professor Patrick Minford, who championed Margaret Thatcher’s policies when she was under attack from other economists, said: “Brexit allows us to pursue free trade around the world, leaving EU protectionism behind us.
“This will bring down consumer prices dramatically as our people will at last be allowed to shop around in the world market. Our producers too will have to match this competition; and this will raise our productivity and growth.”
Some of the sharpest criticism of the UK-EU deal in Brexiteer circles has come from the group Fishing For Leave. It argues the deal means coastal communities will miss out on a £4.8billion boost to their economies.
However, former Brexit minister Mr Jones defended the arrangements which put in place an adjustment period until June 2026.
He said: “The point is we lost control of our waters for 48 years and whilst I have huge sympathy with the fishermen I think five and a half years should enable them to build up the indigenous capacity of this country and to resume fishing again.”
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The IEA’s Ms Hewson stressed the improvements that trade deals can bring to families’ standard of living.
She said: “The danger is with free trade agreements is it gets sold as something that’s good for business and good for corporations – which of course it should be as well, but the overriding concern should be it makes goods and services cheaper and better for consumers and that should drive everything else, and that’s what’s drives prosperity and wealth for individual people and families.
“Being able to reduce tariffs on our imports from the US is just as important as having tariffs reduced for our exports to the US.”
She wants Britain to unilaterally reduce trade barriers and reform regulations to “send a strong signal to trade partners that we will be a great place for them to do business”.
The prospect of a UK-US trade deal has stirred concerns about US farming practices, with attention focusing on chlorine-washed chicken.
Ms Hewson said: “The chlorine-washed chicken is a real PR nightmare, really, for supporters of free trade because the vested interests like farmers and the farming lobby have really been very successful in ramping up these sort of scare stories about American food.
“But in reality US farming standards are not materially lower than ours in this country when you think about measures like the amount of space that chickens have to have to be reared in.
“Those kinds of things are pretty much the same, actually.
“The chlorine-washes are a safety thing to reduce salmonella and other disease carriers, and the statistics show US chicken is just as safe if not safer than chickens reared to EU standards.
“If people think British chickens are all reared in luxurious surroundings, strolling around bucolic barnyards, I’m afraid that’s very far from the truth.”